i3 - March/April 2017 - 15

By Murray Slovick

Tech

A T EC H TO WATC H

Voice-controlled Service Robots at CES

 T

he commercial emergence of a game-changing technology is a bit like a golfer hitting a hole-in-one.
Both events happen relatively infrequently, yet everyone knows there's another one coming, but not exactly
when or by whom. The 50th anniversary of CES is likely to be
remembered as a pivotal event in the development of social robots
for consumers, a coming out party of sorts for these autonomous
devices that can see, hear and react to their environment.

At CES hundreds of companies showcased robots that can interact with us and
change the way we live, especially at home.
Virtually all of the new robots featured
some sort of artificial intelligence (AI).
At risk of oversimplification, AI deals with
giving machines the ability to model and/or
replicate how natural human intelligence
works. It is not one but rather a collection
of technologies that enable machines to
sense, comprehend, learn and act on their
own to augment human activities.
These social robots also added a dose
of fun to CES. Generally featuring big
round heads on small bodies, an eye (or
eyes) sometimes with a display, no ears or
a mouth and in many cases no arms or
legs either, this new fleet of helper-bots
are designed to tend to our needs and,
more importantly, relieve daily monotony.
As speech is becoming an important
way humans interact with everything from
mobile phones to cars, these personal
assistants are demonstrating an enhanced
ability to understand voice-based requests.
Following the success of Amazon's Alexa,
many social robots now demonstrate compatibility with the Alexa voice-activated,
multi-purpose assistant.
Amazon's Alexa-controlled Echo is
a wireless speaker which allows you to
use the sound of your voice to search the
Web, create lists, shop online and control
popular smart home products - all
without a smartphone.

C TA . t e c h / i 3

According to CTA, 2017 unit sales
projections for voice-controlled digital
assistant devices such as Alexa, Apple's
Siri, and Google's Home are expected to
reach 4.5 million units (representing
a 52 percent increase) and soar to $608
million in revenue (a 36 percent increase).

Alexa-compatible Robots at CES
LG's Hub Robot connects to smart
appliances in the home, using Alexa's
voice recognition technology to complete
household tasks such as turning on
the air conditioner using simple verbal
commands. The Hub also has a screen
to display emotive responses; it blinks
and its face changes depending on the
program that is running. The screen can
be used to stream music or share information. Equipped with cameras, the robot
can distinguish different family members'
faces. It also responds to humans by
Clockwise from left: Amazon
Echo, Lynx by Ubtech Robotics,
LG Hub Robot, Samsung
POWERbot VR7000.

nodding its head when answering simple
questions. LG plans to introduce mini
robots following Amazon's strategy with
its Echo Dot product.
Similarly, Samsung Wi-Fi-connected
robot vacuums are now compatible
with Amazon Echo so consumers can
control them using voice commands.
Samsung's new POWERbot VR7000
robots are aimed squarely at consumers
who demand better automated cleaning.
Twenty-eight percent slimmer than
previous Samsung robot vacuums, the
VR7000s can access hard-to-reach
places and have enough suction capacity
to eliminate the need for manual followup cleaning. The POWERbot VR7000
robots can come within a ½ inch (15mm)
of a wall. The robots map and remember
the contours of a room and can also
detect and work around obstacles or
small items (less than 10mm or 0.4inch).
China-based Ubtech introduced at
CES its Lynx humanoid robot that has
a face and body as well as arms and
legs. Lynx, too, features Alexa capability.
When you say "Alexa" Lynx will look in
your direction. Thanks to Alexa, Lynx
can order Amazon Prime products
directly from Amazon via simple voice
commands. The robot uses facial and
image recognition to greet you and
reacts to what is in front of it. Expected
to hit stores mid-year, Lynx can dance,
play music, show you how to do various
exercises and even achieve Yoga poses.
A built-in camera captures photos and
video. It can even watch pets when you're
away. The in-home companion works
with Amazon Music, Spotify and other
streaming services.
CTA Chief Economist Dr. Shawn
DuBravac predicts that the traditional
GUI (graphical user interface) for robots
will be replaced by vocal computing.
"Voice clearly is in a crossover area where
it moves from the theoretical to the practical and people start thinking about how
it can be used if it was just a little
bit better," he says. ■
MARCH/APRIL 2017

15


http://cta.tech/I3

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http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/manifest/i3_20180304
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http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/manifest/i3_20170304
http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/manifest/i3_20170102
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